Bubble Bobble

   RPGs are well known for being an obsessive genre, played by fans for hours on end as they crave the next boss battle or the next bit of plot. Could there be anything even more addicting? With many puzzle games, it certainly seems to be the case. In Bubble Bobble, first in a long and beloved series, it is the complexity found in a seemingly simple game idea, coupled with oodles of hidden secrets and a strangely mesmerizing little tune that creates the feeling all gamers know and love: complete and total obsession. "Just one more board before I go to sleep! Just one more!" One more becomes two more becomes ten more, and thus we realize the addicting enchantment that is a puzzle game like Bubble Bobble.

"A fantastic story"

   "Now it is the beginning of a fantastic story! Let's make a journey to the cave of monsters! Good Luck!" Bubble Bobble began as an arcade game in 1986 and was soon ported to other systems, where many encountered it in the early days of NES. The premise is simple -- two boys have been turned into tiny dinosaurs and must race through a hundred boards to rescue their girlfriends. Their method of fighting is shooting bubbles from their mouths to entrap the enemies, then popping the bubbles to kill the enemies. A hundred boards of such nonsense gives the impression that the game would quickly become tedious, but in truth, it only grows more entertaining as it continues onward. After every few boards the players (since two can star as the adorable Bub and Bob) are given a new password that allows them to restart at the first board of the set they died in. The infinite continues suck gamers right in, since it eliminates the frustration of having to replay parts they've beaten already.

Blowing bubbles to climb the wall

   Defeating each level is no small feat, as the enemies get faster as the game progresses, and the mechanics of the board increase in difficulty as well. At first it's simply a matter if jumping up platforms to reach the enemies, or waiting until they come to you, but later on, they are trapped in areas that one needs other methods to get to. First, by hitting the buttons just right (shooting a bubble just before you jump while holding in the direction button to hug the wall), Bub and Bob can bounce on their own bubbles to climb to the top of the screen. Hooray for button mashing! In addition, certain bubbles can come from holes in the ceiling or floor that when popped shoot lighting at the enemies, or encase the heroes in water, whipping them down the screen and killing anything they touch. When enemies are killed, fruit appears as a reward, and when enough points from fruit are accumulated, the player is granted an extra life.

Collect the letters to spell "extend"

   Bubble Bobble has its share of items and secrets, both obvious and hidden. Bub and Bob can eat candies of various colors that affect their status (yellow increases the bubble firing speed, purple causes the bubbles to travel further, and blue increases the bubble speed across the screen), and also collect jewels or little red shoes that allow them to "run," gliding them away from enemies more quickly. Sometimes an umbrella will appear that, when touched, warps the players ahead a few levels. Another tricky puzzle is that of the EXTEND letters. When Bub and Bob pop the bubbles of several enemies at once, these letters will float down the screen, and when the whole set is collected, it results in a special surprise. If they take too long to complete a board, the game flashes "Hurry Up!" across the screen and enemies that can't be killed come out to chase them so that they finish.

Level thirteen: A heart

   Just to add a little more to the obsessive compulsive nature of the game, getting through all one hundred boards won't give gamers the real ending to the game. If you beat the last boss with only one character alive, the game will tell you to "never forget your friend" and warp you back until they join you again. The symbolism in this statement, the hidden messages, and the ultimate conclusion of the game signify its charming theme of the power of friendship. Even if the final stage is completed by both characters, the game will still tell that this is "not the true endingŠ" The true ending involves Super Bubble Bobble, which can be started by inputting a certain code at the start screen. The code can be found by solving hidden puzzles throughout the game that take Bub and Bob to secret rooms with messages to decode. It takes true patience to ever have the privilege of seeing the real ending to Bubble Bobble.

   When all the little complex puzzles and pieces are fit smoothly together, Bubble Bobble becomes more than your typical repetitive early puzzle game. Instead, it offers a real challenge (enough that it's been ported to modern systems as well) and a special appeal that draws gamers in and keeps them playing, without letting them even realize time is passing...

Retrospective by Tamzen Marie Baker.
Bubble Bobble
Developer Taito
Publisher Taito
Genre Puzzle
Medium Cartridge
Platform NES
Released 1988
FAQ / Level Codes
15 screen shots
Character artwork and icons